Washington, Dec 5 (IANS) Pakistan continues to use the Taliban as a hedge against India rather than utilizing it as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan, a top American commander has said days after US President Donald Trump sought assistance from Islamabad in the Afghan peace process.
The remarks were made by US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie at the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing for commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).
“Pakistan is an essential element in long term stability in Afghanistan. It could play a key role in facilitating talks between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan. At this time, however, Pakistan does not appear to be using the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table,” McKenzie Jr told the members of the committee.
“We continue to see the Taliban being utilized as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan.”
McKenzie said Islamabad’s policy towards its neighbour Afghanistan and its stance against the terror groups in the region seemed to be unchanged.
“Despite Pakistan’s positive rhetoric in support of the South Asia Strategy, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operate along its border with Afghanistan. While Pakistan has conducted some operations against VEOs in Pakistan, they must continue to expand these operations and remain aggressively engaged,” he said.
According to the top official, Pakistan’s action or inaction as it related to stability in Afghanistan “often led to frustration between our governments and militaries”.
“Stability in the South Asia region remains the most important mutual strategic interest for both the US and Pakistan, and I think we must continue to engage with Pakistani leadership to realize how we can achieve this mutual interest.”
McKenzie urged Islamabad to take concrete steps that deny VEO safe havens in the country and prevent their movement from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
“Pakistan must leverage their influence over Taliban leadership to help compel them to come to the table for reconciliation negotiations.
He said the US CENTCOM will continue to support the Department of State as it works towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan which included ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are acknowledged in any future agreement.
McKenzie added that the US CENTCOM will keep backing Trump’s South Asia Strategy and remained committed to holding Pakistan accountable for the commitments they had made to support US efforts in finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict.